What Can Yankees Fans Expect from James Kaprielian in 2017?

New York Yankees top pitching prospect James Kaprielian has been largely dominant in the Arizona Fall League. What can fans expect from him next year?

Aside from one ugly start, New York Yankees James Kaprielian has looked dominant in the Arizona Fall League. Through his first five appearances, he has struck out 8.35 batters per nine while walking just 1.96. His 3.93 ERA is a little inflated, but if you remove his rough October 24th appearance (cherry picking, I know), it would be 2.40.

Most importantly, Kaprielian’s right elbow has passed its first major test. He is taking the ball every five days without incident. In his most recent start, he worked through five frames, throwing 68 pitches (48 of them for strikes). Both the innings total and pitch count were his highest since returning from the elbow injury that cost him the majority of the regular season.

Kaprielian is lined up for another two starts in the AFL. At this point the results are not as important as just getting him some innings, but it would still be nice to see him finish strong.

The case can be made that Kap is the most important player in the team’s minor league system at the moment because he is arguably the only pitcher they have with a realistic chance to develop into an ace for them down the road, at least the only one who is anywhere close to the majors.

The system is definitely position player heavy, and the pitching prospects they do have are mostly back-of-the-rotation types like Jordan Motgomery and Dietrich Enns, or guys like Dillon Tate and Domingo Acevedo who have a strong chance of ending up in the bullpen.

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On their 2017 New York Yankees Top Ten Prospects list, Baseball America ranked Kaprielian the organization’s fifth best prospect, which is very aggressive considering the injury concerns and the fact that the 22-year-old has made just six minor league starts since the team took him in the first round of the 2015 June amateur draft.

That reflects just how good Kaprielian has looked when he has been healthy enough to take the mound. In the AFL, Kaprielian has worked in the mid-90s with his fastball and has shown strong command of his three offspeed offerings. There is no reason to think he won’t be ready to succeed in the upper-minors next season, probably after a brief tune-up with High-A.

Fans should expect to see Kaprielian back in major league spring training next February, and while there is zero chance he cracks the Opening Day roster, he could begin knocking on the door by the second half depending on how he performs and what the Yankees needs are by that point.

The main obstacle to Kaprielian helping the big league club is he will likely be on a strict innings limit. Between UCLA and the minors, Kap threw 118 innings in 2015. He only managed 36.1 IP this year so far because of the injury, although he’s obviously gotten more work than that during his rehab.

It is hard to imagine Kaprielian exceeding 100-120 IP in 2017 coming off of a serious elbow injury, especially one that he never addressed via surgery. Pushing Kaprielian aggressively up the ladder to the Yankees rotation probably isn’t an option anymore.

The team is very likely to treat him with kid gloves next season. A late-season cameo in the Bronx isn’t out of the question, but more likely Kap will have to wait until 2018 to see meaningful time in the big leagues.

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